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Racist Group Loses Charity Law Challenge

November 22, 2001|Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Supreme Court dealt a legal blow to a white supremacist Wednesday, upholding a state law that requires charities to register and report their finances to the government.

The court rejected Matt Hale's argument that the law is unconstitutionally vague.

Illinois Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan sued Hale's World Church of the Creator in 1999 for failing to register as a charity and disclose its finances. The lawsuit was filed just days after former member Benjamin Smith went on a shooting rampage that targeted minorities. Smith killed two people and injured nine before killing himself.

Ryan is trying to fine the East Peoria-based racist group $1,000, freeze its assets and ban it from soliciting funds in Illinois.

Ryan contends Hale's organization is a charity, not a church. Illinois requires charities to register so it can protect people from fraudulent fund-raising, while the 1st Amendment keeps government's hands off churches.

Hale argued that the law is so vague no one can tell which groups it covers. A Cook County circuit judge agreed and overturned the law.

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision, which sends the case back to the lower court, said the state's Solicitation Act describes "charitable organizations" as being formed for "benevolent, philanthropic, patriotic," or other purposes.

"Although the terms at issue in this case are broad in scope, we fail to see how they could be more precisely defined," wrote Justice Rita Garman.

Hale had claimed Ryan was using the law to shut down his organization because of Smith's crimes. He has contended that, while his group preaches white supremacy, he did not encourage Smith to kill minorities.

After Wednesday's decision, Hale said Ryan, a Republican candidate for governor, was trying to score political points.

"We are a body of religious adherents. We raise money in order to print our literature and distribute it," Hale said. "We have a collection plate, just as most churches, and I don't see them being hauled into court by Jim Ryan."

However, Hale based his lawsuit on the constitutional vagueness question.

Ryan argued that Hale's group qualifies as a charity because it sells items such as "The White Man's Bible."

Garman said the group's solicitation on a Web site for membership dues and advertisements for books and merchandise gave "the appearance of a charitable organization."

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